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Friday, Nov. 28, 2014

The 3rd Rail of Local Politics

Posted Tuesday, February 22, 2011, at 7:13 AM

The term "third rail" implies sudden, certain, and terrible death. One hundred years ago, subways were designed to be propelled by electric motors energized by an external power source. (Today's diesel electric trains generate their own electric power for locomotion.) The designers laid two parallel rails for the wheels of the train and put a third rail down the middle. The third rail is energized. A "feeler" on the train touches the third rail to power the electric motor. The motor discharges the power to ground through the wheels to the main tracks. Anyone stepping on the third rail with a foot either on another track or the ground got a first hand experience similar to the condemned at Sing Sing when the lights dimmed.

In national politics, a politician steps on the third rail when he wants to change Social Security. Old people like their national pension and they VOTE. Said politician experiences sudden, certain, and terrible political death. At the state and local level, the third rail is education.

Without getting into the whys and wherefores, there are two serious truths about education that must be addressed. No. 1: The State of Indiana, like every other governmental entity in this great nation of ours, is broke. No. 2: The average 19-year-old in 2010 has less fundamental knowledge and is less well prepared to face the world than the average 19-year-old in 1970.

Because these are such vitally important issues, most people have a strong opinion on them. Something must be done. But what? Whatever your idea, there will be a very strong contrary opinion.

I attended part of the Cracker Barrel meeting at the Jackson Township Firehouse on Saturday. Within 20- 30 minutes, the participants were passionately locked into this issue: Education. How do we address the problem that today's 19-year-old has less fundamental knowledge and is less well prepared to face the world than 40 years ago.

Like the daemon cast out by Jesus into the heard of swine, the problem is legion. The problem is Washington. The problem is Indianapolis. The problem is the School Board. The problem is the principal and administrative staff. The problem is the union. The problem is the teacher. The problem is the student. The problem is the family. The problem is cultural. The problem doesn't really exist, but is merely a flawed perception. How many others have I left out?

On Saturday, the issues included school funding, charter schools, school vouchers, and home schools.

There is little reason to doubt that our area teachers passionately want to educate our children. But today's 19-year-old has less fundamental knowledge and is less well prepared to face the world than 40 years ago.

Encouraging children to leave the public schools, particularly if they take their tax funded "tuition" with them creates new problems. Most costs associated with public education are fixed and don't vary much with the number of students. Encouraging students to leave and take their money with them will exacerbate the financial problems faced by our schools. But today's 19-year-old has less fundamental knowledge and is less well prepared to face the world than 40 years ago.

Our culture and system of government, freedom itself, cannot long survive without an educated population who are aggressively taking on life. To change nothing is the same as allowing the airplane slowly arc toward the earth until the nose tunnels into the round. The proposed solutions may in fact push the joy stick forward and steepened the decent. How do you fix a problem that originates from Washington, Indianapolis, the School Board, the principal and administrative staff, the union, the teacher, the student, the family, the culture, or doesn't really exist, but is merely a flawed perception?

I wonder how many Romans perceived the collapse of the empire even before the barbarians arrived at the gates? Hannibal ad portas!


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Charles I disagree with you ..[surprise?] I don't believe that they student today has less knowledge. I do believe however that:

1] our world is more closely connected and so the employers can draw from a pool of employees from the entire world in many cases and not just from local area. This has driven up the competition for jobs so where 40 years ago someone with a GED was trained by the telephone company to repair phones and related lines both on the pole and switching systems within buildings, now that position is filled by someone with a 2-4 year degree.

2] Due to advancements there is so much more we have to learn. Medicine, engineering, manufacturing. Even the way minerals are extracted from the earth has changed. Arthroscopic surgery didn't exist, nor did advancements in cancer treatments other than whacking off huge portions of the body in hopes that you would get it all. Even in your own profession there are more X vs X cases to refer to and remember merely because there have been many more "landmarks" to site. No matter what the career, so much more has happened in the past 40-50 years.

I think there is no single answer or entity more responsible. The teachers and school corporations need to realize that education is not the way their daddy's was and guidance needs to make this clear to each student that it is no longer ok to just get a high school education if they want to eat as well as move out of their parents' house at some point. The student and parents though also need to take ownership of the situation as well and realize that there is no easy button. No minimum requirement that is "enough" to squeak by and get a diploma and that be sufficient. Those at the very top of the heap are the ones who are going to have the most choices when it comes to jobs, colleges, and scholarships. Just having that diploma is no longer the goal. One must push themselves to the limit of their ability to see just how high they can go in school so they will be in a better position when they are ready to leave high school.

Better schools would be nice, but I firmly believe that we are looking at a future where only those individuals who push themselves to be the best they can be will be successful in society. This is the message that needs to be heard by all the stakeholders in education from the student to the taxpayer. For where more successful people are, there will be a more successful communities...and more successful businesses as those who have heard the message will not want to live in communities without the academic resources to give THEIR children their best chances at success. think about that and how this community really thinks about education and literacy....we have no public county wide library so preschoolers don't have access to a multitude of books so they can find their genre to be addicted to reading at a young age. It's all connected.

It's like the joke...what do you call the medical student who graduated at the bottom of his class?? Doctor. When there are many to choose from from all over the world, HOW you did in school is going to matter as well as simply graduating from it....No longer are companies hiring all who have graduated. They can now be choosy...and so many haven't yet realized this.

Have a good day.

-- Posted by Jenny Moore on Tue, Feb 22, 2011, at 7:28 PM


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